Boys and girls from 64 different countries have been sharing their passion for the beautiful game at the 5th edition of Football for Friendship organized by Russian giant Gazprom in St Petersburg.
According to Victor Zubkov, chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors, “the children are not just playing football, they are promoting sport, a healthy lifestyle and common values.”
There can only be one player from each country in every team. United in eight international teams, the kids, aged 12 to 14, transcended cultural and language barriers and had a ball on the pitch.
“I’ll make a team of Pakistan and I will surely become as famous as Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Yellow Team defender Mohammad Moazzam from Pakistan.
This was the first time the United States was taking part. Its player was Lauren, who told Euronews she has big dreams for gender equality in football.
“I want both boys and girls to be on the big channels, there can be a girl Ronaldo, or somebody as famous, and we can also play against the boys. And there can be mixed teams where we can all play against each other – like in the Football for Friendship programme.”
India’s Sujar Kahar from Mumbai played as goalkeeper. He was selected among 2.500 children to take part in the games and has promised his parents to bring back the World Cup to India in the next ten years. Coming to St Petersburg was his first trip ever.
“I was inspired by Messi, I want to as famous as him but as a goalkeeper,” he told Euronews.
It was the second tournament for Runqi Cui, 13, from Beijing. This time, he took part as a coach.
“Maybe it will change my life, yeah, maybe… I think football can bring people together,” he said.
According to FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, programs like this have an important role to play “because of the global reach of football, it represents a unique opportunity to really put people together and create synergies between nations and between women, men and it also breaks all kinds of barriers in the world.”
The tournament was a chance for the young players to meet their idols like ex-Liverpool star Stan Collymore and Zenit St Petersburg striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov.
There was also time to visit St Petersburg, learn about Russian culture and build lasting friendships.
“Everybody is my friend here,” said Mohammad Moazzam, adding: “I have the Instagram addresses of my friends and we will stay in touch.”
This year, the trophy went to the Orange team. But the main prize was awarded to everyone: tickets for the FIFA Confederations Cup final.